Dietary Supplements Pocket Companion by Pamela Mason. London, UK: Pharmaceutical Press; 2009. Paperback; 278 pages. ISBN 978-0-85369761-9. $39.95.
Based on the larger, fully referenced comprehensive text Dietary Supplements, now in its 3rd edition, this Pocket Companion is designed as a practice-relevant, quick reference, easily accessible text primarily for health professionals looking for up-todate information on efficacy and safety of dietary supplements. This pocket-sized edition provides concise versions of the 82 monographs in the larger reference work, with an additional 6 monographs on arginine, dong quai (Angelica sinensis, Apiaceae), 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptamine), hydroxycitric acid (usually derived from Garcinia cambogia, Clusiaceae), multivitamins, and pumpkin seed (Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbitaceae).
Generally, botanicals are included only if they are marketed as products intended to supplement the diet. Clearly, there is a hazy dividing line between herbs intended to supplement the diet and those herbal products that are used to maintain or improve health. Primarily, the supplements covered by this volume are vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, and enzymes, as well as a range of other substances, like shark cartilage or green-lipped mussel, or chemical constituents of plants, such as isoflavones.
There are monographs on the following herbs and plant-based ingredients: aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis, Liliaceae); chlorella (Chlorella vulgaris, Chlorophyceae); evening primrose oil (Oenothera biennis, Onagraceae); flaxseed oil (Linum usitatissimum, Linaceae); garlic (Allium sativum, Liliaceae); ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba, Ginkgoaceae); Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng, Araliaceae); grape seed extract (Vitis vinifera, Vitaceae); green tea extract (Camellia sinensis, Theaceae); guarana (Paullinia cupana, Sapindaceae); kelp (Laminaria spp., Laminariaceae); psyllium (Plantago ovata, Plantaginaceae); and spirulina (Arthrospira platensis, Oscillatoriaceae).
The author, Pamela Mason, is a pharmaceutical and nutrition writer and consultant based in Monmouthshire, South Wales. Her interest in food supplements began during her own studies in nutrition and her experience in community pharmacy, where she was frequently asked questions about dietary supplements. She teaches nutrition to pharmacists and gives conference presentations about supplements in both the United Kingdom and abroad.
Mason’s primary point of reference and experience is the United Kingdom. However, the author makes every effort to ensure international relevance for the information in the monographs. Data is presented where applicable in tabular format and includes recommendations and regulations relating to nutritional supplements in Europe and the United States. In contrast to the United States, where dietary supplements are regulated as foods, not drugs, in most European countries supplements must be demonstrated to be safe, and only those proven to be safe can be sold without prescription.
Vitamin A is a case in point as the vitamin is essential in small quantities but dangerous in large amounts. The vitamin A entry simply states the range of daily reference values (DRV), providing interesting comparative data. It is clear that DRVs have been established at a significantly higher level for the US consumer than for most European countries. (This is based on different regulatory systems.) There is also an appendix providing guidance on safe upper levels of vitamins and minerals for Europe and the United States.
Mason’s approach to the task is balanced, credible, solid, and practical. The 88 monographs are listed alphabetically and presented clearly, concisely, and impartially, providing independent evidencebased summaries in a structured format from the scientific information. There is a categorized assessment of level of evidence for efficacy from C=convincing to I=insufficient. Data classified as convincing is not narrowly confined to evidence from randomized clinical trials or metaanalyses but includes epidemiological studies, prospective observational studies, and biological plausibility; insufficient evidence is that based on findings from a few studies where the data are suggestive but unsupported by well-designed research studies.
The standard categories used for each monograph are as follows (brief descriptions):
- Human Requirements—lists for different ages and sex (where established)
- Dietary Intake—states amounts of nutrients provided by the average adult diet
- Action—gives information on the role of the substance in maintaining physiological function and identifies pharmacological actions where appropriate
- Dietary sources—lists significant food sources
- Possible uses—lists potential indication for use of substance with information on strength of evidence
- Bioavailability—where information is available, data on bioavailability of the dietary ingredient is provided
- Precautions/contraindications— provides lists of diseases and conditions where the substance should be avoided or used with caution
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding— comments on potential toxicity during pregnancy and lactation
- Adverse effects—describes risks associated with excessive intake, as well as signs and symptoms of toxicity
- Interactions—lists drugs and other nutrients that may interact with the supplement
- Dose—gives recommended dosage where established
- References—provides no more than 10 per supplement since all original source material is in the comprehensive textbook, Dietary Supplements.
This volume has a clear and specific purpose, which is well executed. Mason’s slim, vinyl-covered guide to the safety and efficacy of the most commonly used vitamins, minerals, and dietary supplements is authoritative, convenient, and internationally relevant to the consumer and health practitioner.
—Jacqueline C. Wootton President, Alternative Medicine Foundation, Inc. Director, HerbMed® HerbMedProTM, Potomac, MD